A Week on Mull

This was my first visit to Mull since 2014 where it didn’t snow! Mind you we had (one day of) warm glorious sunshine then strong winds, heavy rain or drizzle and even hail stones, so weather-wise it wasn’t the best of weeks… Still… I was equipped for the conditions and although a little frustrating at times (especially when my puffin trip was cancelled 3 times and I never made it to Lunga) I made the most of my week on the island, and even if I didn’t return with nearly as many photographs as I would have expected it was an enjoyable stay.

Monday was the day of warm, glorious, sunshine – I’ve never been warm on Mull before! Everything looked wonderful, really clear and crisp. My parents and I were booked on Martin Keiver’s Mull Charters white-tailed sea eagle trip and as we left Ulva Ferry the water was like a mirror reflecting the mountains and gulls as they flew overhead.

The eagles came thick and fast. The first, a male, missed his fish entirely, and was quickly followed by his mate who had no trouble scooping it out of the water with her magnificent talons, they were pretty distant though. The third bird had a red-tinged tail…

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More came giving better and better views as they collected the fish.

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Great to get some images against the sky & hillsides too:

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The eagles were mobbed by both gulls and ravens – this raven was kind enough to fly side-by-side with a white-tail to demonstrate the similarities in their shape and difference in size.

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The strong sunlight had both advantages and disadvantages. I was using my Nikon D500 with Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 lens. Due to the speed of the birds and variation in the light depending on whether the birds were shot against blue sky, hillside or water, I was in aperture priority mode (f7.1) with some negative exposure compensation. My shutter speed at times reached 1/5000! Therefore the vast majority of my images are sharp. However, I had to expose for the highlights (the birds heads/tails) and this combined with the harsh light meant that the feathers were dark and lacking any real colour. I’ve managed to improve on these in lightroom but a slightly cloudier day or lower sun would have been better. That said, the number of drops, and gorgeous day definitely compensated for any of these issues! Best (of 5) trips I’ve had out with Martin. We spotted an otter on the way back in too which was nice bonus, plus a stag silhouetted against the sky on a mountain top.

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Back in November I spent a week on Mull with Andy Howard and Pete Walkden photographing the otters. You can read all about it on this blog, but suffice to say it was a great week with many many wonderful otter encounters.

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So when I returned I had a good idea where to go looking for them. I found a mum and cub at the spot where, in November, there’d been a mum with two young cubs (see below).

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I don’t know whether one didn’t survive the winter (it was a bit of a wimp) or whether the more confident of the two had left home – I’ve heard differing reports. However great to see them. After one relatively brief and image-less encounter as they were finishing up and going home, I spent a fab couple of hours with the pair on the Wednesday. I spotted them as they came ashore on a little island. Here they groomed for a bit before heading back into the sea and fishing quite far out from the shore.

Otters

Eventually they swam towards land and I got myself in position.

Otters

The otters then spent at least an hour fishing, feeding, grooming and relaxing in the same area. Mum was eating kelp not fish.

Otters

I think they must have sussed that I was there as both looked in my direction on a number of occasions but I stayed still and they returned to the same spot on the rocks again and again.

Otters

Otters

Otters

Otters

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At times though they were obviously completely relaxed and snoozed.

Otters

Otters

Otters

I’m pretty sure I said this in my November blog, but watching otter families is one of my absolute favourite pastimes. Yes, I think I enjoy photographing mountain hares more and the resulting pictures of the hares are without a doubt better, but sitting in the company of otters is an absolute joy (in rain, wind, snow or sunshine!). The interactions between family members are lovely. These two spent a lot of time entwined, or with the cub resting its head on mum’s back.

Otters

Otters

The other great thing about this pair is that they were hidden from view of other otter-spotters so we weren’t bothered by anyone else. What was lovely about November was the small number of photographers/tourists on the island, that was not the case in May! Cars crawled along the lochside and whenever I spotted an otter and stopped the car, others would pull in to see what was there. The otters, for the most part, stayed away from the shore, preferring to fish further out and if they needed to land went onto the little islands that appeared at lower tides.

You can’t really blame them… I know of (at least one) photographer who is quite vocal in his opinion that folk shouldn’t go to Mull for otters, but instead should visit the other islands (or rivers) where there are fewer people and plenty of wildlife – the same can (and is) said about the location where I, and many others, photograph mountain hares. I agree completely. However… not everyone has the time to find and then work these other places. I’d love nothing more than to find my own private otter / hare spot as I much prefer having the animals to myself, but with only 6 weeks annual leave, a dog who doesn’t travel, 2 radio shows and other interests, I can’t do it at present. But, believe me, if my plans to relocate North ever come to fruition it is top of my list to find new locations. In the meantime though, if I want to spend time with these animals that I love then I have little choice but to go to the tried and tested places. I do respect the wildlife though and do everything in my power not to stress them unlike some others.

Anyway… back to my week on Mull. Those were the only two occasions where I did much in the way of photography. Tuesday was miserable, heavy rain and strong winds all day so we spent much of it in the car. I did manage a few images though, mostly of the garden birds plus a lamb and skylark.

Female Chaffinch

Male Siskin

Lamb

Skylark

and finally a strange rainbow over the far bank of the loch which turned everything a little psychedelic!

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I went out early on the Wednesday morning which was lovely. The roads were quiet and the sun was shining. I photographed a male reed bunting singing its heart out, a great northern diver (of which there were many on Mull but mostly distant), a wheatear and common sandpiper

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Great Northern Diver

Male wheatear

Common Sandpiper

and then a white-tail flew down over the loch, it looked as though it was fishing but I don’t think it caught anything. It flew through some trees, presumably to the nest. Then either it, or its mate appeared and also flew down over the loch before returning, flying overhead, then perching in the same trees. Not the same standard of images as those from the boat, but great to get some which didn’t involve baiting.

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I returned to Salen and noticed that the light on the bird feeders was lovely, so spent some time photographing the siskin, goldfinch and greenfinch.

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goldfinch

siskin

After our trip out with Mull Charters on the Monday we briefly visited Grass Point. Not a whole lot going on, but nice to see some Highland cows and a chiffchaff.

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After the otter encounter we went to Carsaig, one of my favourite places on Mull. Sadly the feral goats were mostly quite distant although we bumped into one coming towards us on the same narrow path – not sure who was most surprised! I did photograph a one-legged ringed plover. It didn’t seem overly bothered by the lack of an appendage, but did have to hop rather than run.

Feral Goat

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We went to Croggan on the Friday and stopped off at Garmony Point en route where it was almost sunny although there was a storm close by.

Storm Coming In

Storm Coming In

At Croggan there were some super-cute young lambs plus lots of little birds including ringed plover, warblers, song thrush and a cuckoo, but I couldn’t find it! Unfortunately the weather closed in around us when we reached the beach and the magnificent views were nowhere to be seen, but I enjoyed watching the plovers as they scuttled along the shore.

Lamb

Song Thrush

Ringed Plover

Ringed Plover

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My parents departed on a morning ferry and I stuck around for a few more hours. I watched two fishing otters, neither of which came near land, and walked down to Loch Ba which was beautiful. Lots of cows and a wheatear.

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I had a look for the dippers at Knock Bridge but the water level was so high they’d disappeared. I did spot a black cap, but it was gone before I had the camera ready.

So that’s it. Really wish I’d made it out to Lunga, and that the weather had been a tad better, but it was a lovely relaxing week with some great wildlife encounters.

3 thoughts on “A Week on Mull

  1. Hi Karen, having just spent quite a while reading through your excellent and very well written blog, and looking through your website, I thought I’d drop you a line to say how much I enjoyed it and to wish you sucess for the future. I was on Mull just after you and, without rubbing it in, had great weather. In fact it was too sunny at times, especially on Lunga – harsh midday direct light made photography difficult or should I say challenging. My friends and I had a late afternoon private trip out with Martin for the sea eagles and again were blessed with good weather – it was a planned trip and one I was really looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint. I live on the south coast and only visit Scotland once a year – Dumfries area (Neil’s sparrowhawk hide a couple of weeks ago, Bellymack Farm etc), Cairngorms (places you’ve mentioned), Highlands and, of course, Mull – so you can see why I found your blog so interesting. I Googled something last night to do with Mull and found it by chance – I’m glad I did. I see you have a Flickr account so I’ll have a look.

    Best regards, Tony – tickspics

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    1. Hi Tony – many thanks for your message! I’m pleased you had such good weather – I’ve had little luck weather-wise on Mull, but I still love my visits there. I was over 4 years ago on a wildlife week and we did an afternoon charter with Martin which was brilliant, much better light in the afternoons. I’m returning in mid-July to join Andy Howard’s wildlife week for 1 day for a 9 hour Lunga trip, really hoping this one goes ahead! I know what you mean about bright light though, very challenging! I’ll check out your website when I have a chance. I’m off to Bamff Estate to (hopefully) see and photograph beavers this weekend which should be great. All the best, Karen

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